Nintendo Switch first impressions

By now you’ve probably seen news about the Switch. It’s Nintendo’s new console-tablet-thing (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term) that was announced earlier today. As a Nintendo fan, I’m personally pretty excited. It’s no secret that Nintendo has been floundering lately, especially stateside. It has been suggested that they should do what Sega did in 2001 and give up on the console market and focus on making software for third party consoles. But Nintendo has always dominated the handheld arena. Yes, tablets and smartphones have stolen a bit of their market, but the success of the 3DS has shown that Nintendo can still hold their own in that area. I think the Switch is a great move for them, because it unifies their handheld and home console into one.

First off, let’s talk about controls. Ever since the Wii, Nintendo has been all-in on “unique” controllers, and the Switch seems to go back on some of the weirdness, which is much apreciated. As you can see in the above trailer, the controller is basically a normal, Xbox-style controller that splits in two and snaps on either side of the tablet. Razer has an Android tablet with a similar design, and I’m sure others have tried this, but I think Nintendo is the first company to do something like this in an elegant way that looks like something I’d want to play on. Using the tiny side controllers on their own is a nice option I guess, but I don’t see developers using them for much, as they look pretty cramped. I like the new version of the Pro Controller; nothing fancy, just a good, solid, traditional controller. It seems to have the same buttons as built-in one, so I’m really hoping that this means all games will allow you to use either controller. No more wondering which of your myriad controllers a game is compatible with, please (I’m still annoyed that I can’t play Splatoon on a pro or classic controller, which, judging by the end of the trailer, is set to change in the sequel).

I find it odd that we never see anyone touching the screen on the Switch in the trailer. It would be super ironic if they went from having a home console that has a touchscreen where it doesn’t belong to having a tablet that doesn’t. I’ll be really surprised if this is the case, however, and I suspect that they simply chose not to show it because they wanted to distance it from the Wii U in users’ minds. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s part of Nintendo’s design specifications this time around that every game must be playable with the controller only, since otherwise you won’t be able to play if it’s plugged into the dock. As an added bonus, they get people like me to speculate with their friends about whether or not it’ll have a touchscreen for a while.

I’m curious about the battery life. I’ll be impressed if they can get more than a couple of hours on battery playing a game like Skyrim. Will they drop the resolution for tablet mode to save battery? What about graphical quality? Come to think of it, my 3DS probably gets less than three hours per charge at this point, so maybe it won’t be a big deal.

Speaking of 3DS, this brings us to the interesting question of what happens with the current consoles. The Switch seems to have the capabilities of both of Nintendo’s current consoles. Sure, they’re saying that it’s a third category that’s meant to coexist with other consoles for now, but they also said that the original DS wasn’t going to take the place of the Gameboy line. I’m pretty sure Nintendo is giving themselves an out; if this ends up being a disaster, they can always bail on it and come out with new versions of the DS and home console.

I’m a little frustrated with Nintendo for the way they went about this. We’re well past convention season now, and it’s coming out three months after the holiday release window when new consoles traditionally do best. They’ve said they waited so long because they were afraid of competitors stealing their ideas, but I’m pretty sure that the amount of hype and press that they lost by announcing it this late in the year far outweighs any risk of some other company stealing their ideas (which is going to happen sooner or later anyways). Also, this trailer dropped just one hour before the trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2, which, let’s be honest, is probably much bigger news in the eyes of the average gamer. They announced that the trailer was coming out last night (really? Couldn’t you have at least tried to build hype first?), so it’s not like they didn’t know the biggest game of 2017 was being announced the next morning. Annoyances aside, for the first time since they announced the Wii, I feel like Nintendo is finally heading in the right direction. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m excited to finally be optimistic at all about a Nintendo hardware release.

Rift: Can An MMO Still Entertain If Its Story Doesn’t?

“If the gameplay is good, everything else is just icing on the cake.” I’ve said this kind of thing countless times to friends who are criticizing a good game based on… well, anything but gameplay I guess. Usually I’m referring to graphics, but, in a way, this can apply to story as well. Tetris doesn’t need a story (though 2001’s Tetris Worlds tried… and it was awful). The only backstory you need to know about Space Invaders is in the name. Super Smash Bros. didn’t really have a story until Brawl’s Subspace Emissary (though you wouldn’t know it by the plethora of fan fiction). No one complains that sports games don’t have immersive cutscenes with meaningful story choices (as an Ohioan, I’m pretty sure LeBron got a ton of Renegade points for that whole “taking my talents to Miami” thing, but went back to the Paragon side when he came back to Cleveland). But is this universally true? Certainly any game can be made better by its story (there’s no way I would have made it through three Mass Effect games if it was nothing but shooting aliens for no reason), but there are some types of games, like Myst or Obduction, that are so tightly integrated with their story that I can’t imagine them being fun without it. Is the MMO genre one of these?

Maybe I’m just spoiled by Star Wars The Old Republic’s (mostly) excellent writing, but I’m thoroughly uninterested in Rift’s story. I really like the game in general, but the story just seems like an amalgamation of the most boring, generic fantasy tropes imaginable. Ok, there’s some time travel thrown in there, so that’s different I guess, but for the most part it’s all elves and dwarves and humans saving the world from dragons using magic and swords. I think that this is a lot of what turns me off to the game. I feel bad being that guy who skips all of the quest text and has only a vague idea of why I should care about any of the people I’m killing rats for, but, at the same time, I feel like I’m wasting my time reading quest text that doesn’t make me want to care about the people I’m killing rats for. So can I still enjoy the game while completely ignoring the story elements? I knew several WoW players who were hardcore raiders and PvPers who couldn’t tell a murloc from a warlock, and they seemed to get plenty from their game. But I’ve always felt like it cheapened the experience for them. If I blur through Rift’s story, am I going to feel like I missed out later? Or is it legitimately so dull that I might as well save myself the trouble?

Rift: Building the Perfect Class

I talked a little about Rift a few weeks ago, and I wanted to expand on that a bit. I’ve always been interested in Rift’s build-your-own-class mechanics, but in practice, what should be its biggest strength has always been its biggest barrier to entry for me. In most MMOs, I end up trying out every class sooner or later, and I usually don’t truly pick a class until I’ve done them all at least once, but the idea trying all of the “classes” doesn’t make sense in the Rift paradigm. What’s worse is that I feel the urge to reroll characters I don’t like, so I’ve done the starting zone a bunch of times and have never really moved beyond that. I guess I need to give myself permission to fail. After all, if I spend time messing around with a class build that I don’t like, it’s not like I’m out anything other than the cost of a respec, which isn’t much at all.

I think the problem is that, when I drastically switch builds, it’s hard to get a bunch of new skills dumped on me at once and figure out how they all work together best. I think my strategy going forward will be to focus on one soul for a while, then add in things from one or two others when I start to see where this soul’s weak points are. I also like the idea of coming up with a concept for a class, then figuring out how I can make a Rift character do that. After toying with a few ideas, I decided to build my mage to replicate the things I liked about my Rune-Keeper from Lord of the Rings Online; lots of DoTs and HoTs, and, since Rift’s mage lacks anything like totems/runestones, pets will have to do. I’ve come up with a build that is mostly warlock (since this is basically Rift’s version of the WoW ‘lock, as is LotRO’s Rune-Keeper) with a little necromancer (for pets and extra DoTs) and a bit of chloromancer thrown in (for HoTs). Like I said with my rogue, putting those souls together may be an awful idea, but I’m having fun with it right now, so why not? I do wish I had a little more AoE. Maybe I’ll swap out necromancer for elementalist at some point.

Speaking of my rogue, I stumbled upon a build guide out there that uses the strategist and bard together, so I think that means it’s not a completely terrible idea, yay! I’ve officially decided to park him until the expansion hits. No, not because I’m giving up on him, but because I’ve decided to use my 65 boost on him. It’s probably a terrible idea to just skip most of the game and go straight to the new zones, especially since I’ve never seen the parts of the game in between, but that’s what alts are for, right?

Guild Shopping

Recently I’ve become disenchanted with basically all of the guilds I’m in in all of my games. I’m not sure if it’s the cause or the effect of the burnt out feeling I talked about last time, but either way it’s there. Surprisingly, there’s no drama happening in any of them, and they’re all for slightly different reasons (even the different divisions of the multi-game guild I’m a part of). For some games, I just don’t feel like I fit in anymore, for some I feel like the guild grew so much that I’ve gotten lost in the crowd, and one in particular had just decided it was time for us all to go our separate ways. This has me a little frustrated, since I hate trying to find a good guild, and the idea of doing it in a bunch of games makes me not want to play those games. As I see it, other than spamming zone chat, I have three options, none of which seem terribly appealing.

Forum Trawling
The most obvious first stop is the forums. Here, there are tons of guilds vying for my attention, with descriptions and sales pitches and raid times as far as the eye can see. But how do I pick? Everyone seems to market themselves as “a friendly, community oriented medium-casual guild,” many with raid/dungeon nights in my time zone. I guess I pick one with a name that I like and see if I feel like I fit in?

Find a Multi-Game Guild
Currently, I’m in a guild that has divisions in Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Elder Scrolls Online, and, until recently, WildStar. This is great because it means that I don’t have to go guild shopping in every game I go to; it’s just there waiting for me. If I don’t think I’m going to play a game for a while, I don’t feel like I have to notify anyone or leave the guild, because I’m still technically active within the guild, I’m just spending more time in a different division right now. And yet, I haven’t really done anything with them in ages. They’re a great bunch of people, but recently they’ve gotten so big that I feel like I get lost in the crowd, especially when jumping from game to game.

Start My Own
The final option is to start my own guild. Running a guild means I get to set the standards for the kind of community I want, I get to decide the rules (though “try to keep it PG-13 or less and, in general, just don’t be a jerk” about sums it up), and I get to set the tone for how serious we are about the game. It also means I have to deal with people when they want to cause drama. I’ve toyed with this idea for a few months now, but the problem is that, in that time, I haven’t really played just one MMO consistently; I’ve played a bunch of games a little bit. If I’m going to be a guild leader, I’m going to want to be in my guild’s game at least three or four nights of the week for a few hours, and I’m not sure I want to make that kind of commitment to any one game at this point. However, if I did, it would probably be Guild Wars 2, since that’s the game that I feel the most knowledgeable about (despite having never seen the inside of a raid, even in a video), and have the most leveled and geared characters. It’s also the game where I have the most friends playing at the moment (though most of them are even more casual players than I am, so they probably wouldn’t be the best foundation for a new community, but at least I would have a few members to pad numbers with).

Maybe it’s because I’m such an introvert, but I hate shopping for a good guild. If anyone has any recommendations for guilds active in the US Eastern time zone for Guild Wars 2, WildStar, or Rift, go ahead and leave a link in the comments. I won’t guarantee that I’ll join, but I’m willing to take a look. Or let me know if you’d be interested joining a potential Occasional Hero Guild Wars 2 guild (just kidding… mostly).

MMO Burnout

Lately I’ve felt a little bit burnt out on my current stable of MMOs. It’s not like I want to stop playing any of them, but often in recent days I find myself logging in to a game and getting bored a few minutes later and logging out. As you can probably tell from a cursory glance at my blog history, it’s not unusual for me to get burnt out on a particular game after a while, but what is unusual is that I’ve been burnt out on all of them at once. What’s even more interesting is that I’ve become burnt out on games for a wide variety reasons. Here are a few.

Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 is the MMO that I’ve put the most hours into over the years, and my problem here is that I’m starting to feel like I’ve done it all. I have almost every class to 80; I probably could have every class to 80 if I blew all of my tomes of knowledge. Heart of Thorns was fun, but it’s really not designed to be played alone. I do play a good bit with other people, but sometimes schedule conflicts can be an issue. The first chapter of the living world was fun, but it held my attention for a couple nights at most, and we won’t get more until the 20th. There’s still plenty I could do–I have yet to finish the world map on any one character, and most of my characters are not very well geared–but the reason those things have gone undone thus far is because they don’t sound fun.

Long story short, Angmar happened. I really love my Lore-Master, and I really want to get to Moria, but once again I’m stuck in the mid 40s lacking motivation. I’ve considered just chain running skirmishes until I’m high enough level to move on to Moria, but that gets tedious. I could have a high level friend powerlevel me, but that feels like cheating. Maybe I should just break down and buy Forochel and bypass the rest of Angmar altogether?

I really want to get those Dark vs. Light event rewards, but I’ve done Coruscant and Dromund Kaas so many times that it makes them hard to get past. I’m told that chain running solo flashpoints is really good XP (indeed, I usually come out 1.5-2 levels higher than when I went in), but, well, see previous paragraph. At least they’ve upped the rate at which quests dispense XP, and, while I know it makes raiders grumpy, the GW2-style level and reward scaling is really nice.

I love WildStar, but I got back from vacation to find out that basically every person whose name I recognized in my guild has left. It wasn’t some big drama thing, so that’s good, it was simply due to the fact that we haven’t been able to get a raid team together for over six months despite having plenty of people level capped. Honestly, I guess I was part of the problem; I signed up, and stopped showing up after about a month of not being able to do anything because we were shorthanded. I’m still deciding if I want to stay and try to help rebuild the guild, or just find a new guild to play with. Either way, it’s kind of depressing and it saps my motivation to keep logging in.

For some reason, the fact that Rift is coming out with an expansion has renewed my interest in playing, despite my highest level character being a measly fifteen who probably won’t be ready for this expansion until the next one arrives. My problem with Rift has always been that I can’t seem to pick a character and stick with it. My favorite so far (the aforementioned level fifteen) is a weird combination of classes that I built, a bard/strategist. He uses flamethrowers for cone AoE damage and music for single-target fights. Both souls are support focused, so he has great survivability; I usually finish off most fights with little to no health gone. It’s probably awful in terms of DPS, but I finally came to the conclusion that, if I’m having fun with it, why do I care? My only dilemma now is that the expansion preorder comes with a free level boost to the current cap of 65. Should I get it? Should I use it on this character, or should I save it until I know a little more about the game? If I’m going to use it on this character, should I bother leveling him ahead of the expansion? A while back I got a level 60 character boost, and I was so overwhelmed with all of the new skills that were suddenly dumped in my lap that I barely played him. I’m not even sure where to go to level him to the current cap of 65. I wish it worked more like SWTOR’s insta-60 tokens, starting off in the latest story area with a mini-tutorial that introduces you skills in small groups.

Elder Scrolls Online
I have a similar problem with Elder Scrolls Online that I do with Rift. Characters are just too customizable, and it’s hard to know if I’m going to end up with a character that I like in the end. Even worse, respecting is fairly expensive. The fear of making a character I don’t like has paralyzed me into basically not playing any character high enough to know if I will like it or not. Also, One Tamriel seems like it’s going to fix a lot of my other frustrations with the game, so I think I’m just going to hold off until that hits before digging into the game seriously.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is whether or not I like this tendency in myself to jump around to all of these different games. Sometimes I’m a little jealous of people who play one MMO exclusively for years on end, learn everything there is to know about it, and become a staple of the community. I don’t know if I could ever pick just one game, though. There are too many interesting adventures to be had and stories to be experienced.

LotRO: Three Reasons Why I Hate Angmar

Areluin 43
Every MMO has that one zone where characters just absolutely stall. For me in Lord of the Rings Online, it’s Angmar. It’s funny, I just passed the exact spot where my Beorning is parked. In a way, it’s discouraging, because he’s still several levels higher than my Rune-Keeper, but in another, it’s a reminder that this new character could easily share his fate if I don’t push through. There are a lot of reasons to hate Angmar, but here are my top three.

The Lore Is Boring
I’m no Tolkien expert, but as far as I remember from the books, Angmar was basically just “that place where the Witch-King is from.” I’m not sure if all of these tribes of hillmen are a real thing in some obscure scrap of Tolkien lore, but if they are, The Professor didn’t feel the need to burden us with the details the way LotRO does. Don’t get me wrong, expansions upon existing lore are one of the reasons why I love well done licensed IP games like LotRO, but if I thought of Angmar at all, I’ve always pictured it as a mini Mordor, ruled by a Nazgul and crawling with orcs, not a land devoted to a couple of warring tribes that feel completely disconnected with the rest of Middle-Earth. I read most of the quest text in LotRO–a lot of it is really well written–but once I hit Angmar I skim at best.

The Quest Structure Is Awkward
My biggest complaint about LotRO is not the awkwardly lumpy player character heads (although, for goodness sake, could we get an update to those? NPCs look better than player characters in the newer expansions!), it’s that the quest tracker only holds five quests at a time. I’m sure there’s some legitimate technical reason that they haven’t fixed this, and I guess it’s better than nothing, but it’s really annoying in a zone like Angmar where most of the questgivers are packed into one corner of the map and not really arranged by area at all. What I end up doing is picking up everything I can while I’m in town, finishing the five quests that fit in my tracker, then taking them off and adding five new ones back on, and hoping I don’t end up doing too much backtracking because I didn’t know I had to pick some flowers in the middle of a field overrun with Duvardain half way across the zone that I just ran through to do the last quest I finished (no seriously, there’s literally a quest to pick flowers in the middle of this barren wasteland). Add to that the fact that 40 is when you really start to feel the level curve ramp up, and the whole zone really drags on.

The Setting Is Just Plain Oppressive
The zone is mostly desert with a little bit of swamp mixed in. Just look at the screenshot above; dead trees, scrub brush, and ruins. That pretty much sums up the scenery. And what’s up with the sky? It’s red all day long, with some kind of weird magical glow that I haven’t ever found an explanation for. Even the music is almost nonexistent here, replaced by some creepy ambient noises.

MMO Anime Recommendation: Log Horizon

Log HorizonI’ve never been into anime. I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not my thing. I mean, I watched Pokémon back in the 90s just like everyone else, and I enjoy anime styled games like Megaman, but the shows have just never caught my interest. Bad translations bother me, bad dubs bother me more, and I’m not interested enough to pick through bad shows to find the good. Besides, most of my TV watching is done while I’m doing something boring on my other monitor. Fortunately, I have friends who watch anime (and play MMOs) who highly recommended Log Horizon to me. They described the plot as, “A bunch of people wake up inside an MMO one day and have to learn to live in the game.” My response was, “Is this another name for Sword Art Online?” I watched exactly one episode of Sword Art Online, and couldn’t stand any more. It seems pretty clear to me that the people who made Sword Art Online have never played an MMORPG, possibly never played an RPG. All I remember is the characters talking about needing to get through all 100 levels (not in the “enough XP to level up to 100” sense, but in the Mario “beat all the levels to win the game” sense) before everyone else did because all of the monsters would be killed and then they wouldn’t be able to get any XP to get strong enough to progress to kill the evil dude who trapped them all in the VR game in the first place. In other words, nothing respawns. What kind of crappy game designer thought that up? “Oh, you bought the game a week after it came out? Sorry, should have gotten it on launch day; the XP’s all gone. Better unsubscribe now.” Also, the whole “if you die in the game and you die in real life” thing is a bit hokey. Especially in a genre where you pretty much expect to die from time to time, especially if you’re the first ones to do a brand new raid.

Log Horizon, by contrast, actually feels like it was written by a veteran MMO gamer, but it makes no assumptions that the viewer is as well. The players suddenly wake up in their favorite MMO, Elder Tale(s), and the show spends the first half of the first season slowly introducing MMO mechanics, as well as how they are different in this new world, such as classes and how they interact (the three main characters are a tank, a DPS, and a support), PKing (the game is apparently all OWPvP), crafting (can you craft stuff you know about in the real world that wasn’t previously an item in the game?), RP (one of the main characters is very serious about being a ninja, and another is very serious about being a cat-person), death and respawning (XP penalties, ew), even what happens to players who play a character who doesn’t look like them (the main character has to ajdust to walking because his character is much taller than he is, and another character turns out to be a girl playing a male character). A large chunk of season two involves players learning a new raid. It introduces these concepts gradually enough that I think a person only marginally aware of MMOs could follow it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s talking down to MMO veterans. It has all the anime trappings, from unrequited love triangles to over-the-top action sequences. The plot as a whole is very well thought out; it’s clear that the author had a plan for the story from the beginning, and has stuck to it consistently across both seasons and (hopefully) beyond. Overall, it’s incredibly well done.

Both seasons are available to watch for free (with ads) on Hulu and Crunchyroll. I’ve been watching the subtitled version (it’s good for the most part, though a lot of spellings change between seasons), and I think a dubbed version is available, but, from what little I’ve seen of it, it’s not very well done, so stick with subbed unless that just really annoys you. My wife and I were hooked after just two episodes, and we binged the whole first season in about four days on our recent vacation, and now we’re almost done with the second season. If you’re an MMO player looking for something to watch, I highly recommend this show!